In the 21st Century it is rare that a tool can revolutionize a wood joinery technique, yet the Festool Domino does just that. It borrows the portability and engineered fasteners from the biscuit jointer and the robust joints created by a slot mortiser to produce a super-efficient joint-making machine. The first time I used it, I was amazed at its capabilities. Four years later, I am thrilled to have the Domino in my quiver of tools. The Domino DF 500 Q-Plus has a 4 mm cutter, Trim Stop, Cross Stop, Support Bracket, and a storage “Systainer” for $1069. Also pictured is a Domino Systainer assortment of 1060 Dominos in six sizes and the five cutters needed for those loose tenons. The Domino Assortment is $395.00.
Central to the tool’s success is the engineered loose tenons, also called Dominos. These loose tenons come in 6 sizes. The largest is 10 mm thick (over 3/8 inches) and 50 mm long (about 2 inches). This is more than enough for chair joinery and plenty for joining aprons to table legs when stacked. The smallest Domino is 4 mm thick (5/32″ thick) and 20 mm long (less than 3/4 inch). Of course, there are four more sizes in between.
The Dominos are made out of solid Beech, which is both stamped and compressed. The stamping leaves pockets for glue, and the compressing allows the Domino to swell when exposed to the moisture in the glue. Festool also stamps the size of each Domino, so there is no guessing as to which size cutter is needed for each Domino. The “Sipo” Domino is also available in Mahogany for outdoor applications.
The Domino has a unique mechanism, which both plunges and “wags” back and forth at the same time. The proprietary bits cut a perfect slot, just like a slot mortise, without any dangerous jumping one might expect from a hand-held tool. As with any joinery, careful layout and preparation make for safe and accurate cuts. Once marked and clamped up, I cut these eight mortises in about a minute.
Changing the bits is simple. The motor unlocks from two stanchions on the fence, providing excellent access to the bit. A thumb-lock holds the shaft in place when tightening and loosening bits with the small wrench included with the Domino.
The Domino can cut multiple widths of the mortise, easily adjusted by rotating the green knob. This is a handy feature when you need a bit of wiggle room when joining pieces of wood. I was disappointed to find that multiple-width Dominos is not available, as this would broaden the capabilities of a single mortise.
Like a biscuit cutter, the Domino comes with an adjustable fence. This one, made from cast and stamped aluminum, is extremely accurate. It has positive detent stops at 45, 30, 15, and 0 degrees. The angle is adjusted by rotating the black knob in the foreground.
Because the Dominos come in different lengths, the machine has an easy-to-use depth adjustment. These measurements indicate the depth in millimeters, corresponding to the length of the different Dominos. When joining one thinner part to a deeper part, it is possible, for example, to split the mortises of a 40mm Domino into a 12mm and a 28mm deep mortise. I find the depth adjustment a great improvement over stationary slot mortises, which generally don’t have measurable depth stops built in.
Another feature is the fence height adjustment stop. With seven built-in height stops, dialing in a repetitive cut is easy. Oddly, these numbers indicate a cut in the center of a piece with the millimeter thickness indicated. While not immediately intuitive (especially when Americans use Imperial measurements), one learns to cut at the center of a 3/4″ thick piece of wood (actually 19.05 mm), as indicated by the 20 on this tool.
Flip stops on the Domino face allow for the accurately indexed joining of parts. The spring-loaded stop presses out of the way when the Domino is used in the center of a piece but lets the user join parts without bothering to measure.
Holding and cutting thin rails and stiles is always a challenge, no matter what method of mortising is used. Standard with the DF 500 Q-Plus is a Trim Stop for precise and repeatable mortising in the ends of delicate parts. The Trim Stop snaps onto the angle fence, and the two side stops can be adjusted tightly to the workpiece with the green thumb screw. I have flipped the Domino over to show this feature, but I recommend clamping the workpiece to the bench before engaging the cutter.
This is a bomber joint. Each of these tenons is 3/8″ thick and 7/8″ tall. Once the glue is applied, this table will never fall apart. Offsetting the joint for a small reveal is a cinch. After marking, I cut the sixteen mortises on the aprons. Then I increase the height of the fence and make a couple of test cuts in scrap to get the offset just right. Sixteen more mortises and I am ready to go.
Joining the aprons to the legs on this desk base took less than an hour! The Domino virtually dispenses with set-up. As is typical with loose tenons, measuring out parts is easy. You never have to consider extra length for fixed tenons.
The Domino really excels at funky applications and repairs. This tabletop was snapped in an ugly, irregular break. Because the Domino can cut over an inch in depth, I bored the deepest hole possible, using the tabletop as my datum for the mortise position and utilizing four dominos to stabilize the repair. The Domino lives the old mantra of bringing the tool to the workpiece. Try clamping this broken piece of furniture to a small slot mortising table! Imagine how easy it is to join miters or angled pieces of wood.
It is easy to use the Domino without the fence too. This mortise was in the middle of a mirror frame, making the fence irrelevant. I struck a line at 90 degrees and marked the center of the mortise I needed to cut. I folded the fence back and held the Domino upright. Amazingly, the tool doesn’t jump or wiggle when cutting this. The joints in this mirror come together in minutes and will last a lifetime. It is also easy to mortise in the middle of sheets of plywood (for shelves, for example).
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
Okay, it is pretty easy to pooh-pooh a handheld machine that costs $1069, especially when a decent biscuit jointer can be had for less than $200. While the basic operations are the same, this machine does everything a biscuit jointer can do and much more. First, the Domino can cut much smaller joints than a biscuit cutter, making projects like small jewelry boxes and thin picture frames with the 4 mm loose tenons easy. The machine is accurate enough to edge join 1/4″ thick (thin!) stock. At the same time, the Domino can cut much more robust joints, too. The largest Domino loose tenons are 3/8″ wide x 1″ tall x and 2″long (one inch in each piece). Making joints like these would require a non-portable dedicated slot mortiser. With a router, the least expensive package is about $700, and the loose tenons would still have to be fabricated, a time-consuming operation. Oh, and another thing: the Domino has an excellent dust collection. A tool-actuated vacuum attached removes 100% of the dust. I never have to sweep or clean up after myself.
What type of woodworker would I recommend the Domino for? If you only make period reproductions or only work with plywood, I wouldn’t suggest dropping the big bucks for a Domino. But if your projects range from small framed mirrors to big dining sets, I recommend this machine. If you are a hobbyist and you need more time in the shop to make all the gifts you want to give, take a hard look at Domino. You will immediately feel more productive in the short time you spend in the shop. I’ll be honest, I spent on the Domino twice what I paid for my table saw, and I have no reservations. Seriously. If you are a professional custom woodworker like me, I suggest you shut down the internet as soon as you are done reading and head off to the nearest store that carries Festool and pick up a Domino. It is that versatile, precise, and efficient.
Photos By Author
Festool Domino QP500 Q-Plus
Comes with Trim Stop, Cross Stop, Support Bracket, Systainer Storage Container, and Replaceable Cord
Festool Domino Assortment and Bit Set
Comes with 1060 loose tenons of various sizes, 5Domino Bits (4, 5, 6, 8, and 10 mm)